The dividing line between two countries is often nothing more than an imaginary line drawn through the dirt, yet these invisible placeholders hold an incredible amount of power over the world. In some places, merely approaching the border of another country is nothing less than a death sentence. Here are 10 international borders that represent some of the most dangerous places in the world.
The border between Turkey and Syria is a 510 mile stretch of desert that gained worldwide media attention in 2011 when a group of rebels tried to cross over from Turkey into Syria. Since then, tensions between the two countries have escalated considerably. In October 2012, Syria retaliated by firing artillery shells into the Turkish town of Akcacale, killing three children and sparking off a series of firefights that have only gotten worse in recent months.
Between air raids and retaliation bombings, the conflict has killed about twenty people and wounded another forty so far, and both sides are pumping up the security at the border. It’s estimated that about 120,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey since the start of Syria’s civil war.
Since 2010, the relationship between Venezuela and Colombia has been as amiable as you could expect in one of the largest drug smuggling regions in the world. Both governments are working together to crack down on rebel groups in the region, especially FARC, the largest guerrilla rebel army in Latin America.
However, with increased pressure from Venezuela, more and more of those rebels are crossing into Colombia and raising holy hell south of the river. The border between the two countries slices through one of the main smuggling routes for cocaine on its way to the U.S., and it’s almost completely controlled by rebel groups like FARC. In 2011, the Colombian government stopped an entire envoy of trucks carrying 1.5 tonnes of explosives and over 42,000 rounds of ammunition which had just crossed from Venezuela-all of which was heading towards FARC rebels. And now, the ultraviolent Mexican cartel, the Zetas, have joined the fight, promising more violence in the future as they fight both governments to retain control of the border.
8: Saudi Arabia/Yemen
While most countries are content to simply line their borders with checkpoints and army troops, Saudi Arabia has taken a more proactive approach-since 2003, it has been building a physical wall along its border with Yemen. The $8.5 billion project is still going on, even though Yemen has protested that it violates a whole bunch of treaties from 2000. In this case, it’s not a war between the two countries that’s raising security alarms-it’s the almost unchecked back-and-forth crossing of drug smugglers, arms dealers, and rebel groups treat the border like their own personal playground.
The Al-Shabaab is an Islamic terrorist cell that operates in Eastern Africa, particularly in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. In 2010, Reuters reported that the militia group controlled most of the border between Kenya and Somalia, leading to a series of shootouts between Al-Shabaab and soldiers from both countries’ armies.
With most of the fighting going on in Somalia, tens of thousands of refugees are crossing into Kenya, but the border is becoming more dangerous than ever. Between raids, ambushes, kidnappings, executions, and the firefights stemming from military response to the rebel activity, the death toll is rising every month.
For the past hundred years, Thailand and Cambodia have fiercely disputed their borders, especially in the region around the historic 11 th century Preah Vihear Temple. Both sides claim it as their own, and in 2008 that dispute erupted in violent fighting after Cambodia attempted to claim the temple as one of its national heritage sites. Starting in October, both nations began the process of militarizing their borders, resulting in a continuous chain of firefights that have displaced over 22,000 civilians.
To date, there have been over 250 casualties at the border site. Right now Cambodia and Thailand are in a state of ceasefire, although protest groups and illegal military border crossings from both sides still continue.
The border dispute between the two countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia started in 1998 when both sides took a claim to the small border village of Badme. The fighting escalated into all-out war and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers. The war lasted two years, after which Eritrea was granted Badme-but the Ethiopian army never withdrew. In 2012, Ethiopia again sent troops into Eritrean territory and raided three military installations. Tensions are still high between the countries-Ethiopia still accuses Eritrean soldiers of sneaking across the border to plant landmines at night, and soldiers patrol the border every morning, poking at the ground with sticks to clear away potential mines before they open the roads to civilians.
In less than sixty years since gaining their independence from the British, India and Pakistan have waged two wars over their dividing line, each trying to push their own border further into the other’s territory. Most of the fighting up to this day is centered around Kashmir, and tensions are seriously heating up. Firefights between the two countries are an almost daily occurrence, which is something that has the rest of the world worried-especially since both countries have nuclear technology.
To make matters worse, India has been building a militarized fence along the still-disputed border since 2003-despite Pakistan’s outcry that the border isn’t official, and could change at any time.
3: North Korea/South Korea
North Korea is no stranger to conflict. The brooding big brother of South Korea has often lashed out at its neighbors in unprovoked attacks on both military and civilian targets, and that has led to the creation of a 160 mile long demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. And don’t let the name fool you-North Korea’s DMZ is the most heavily militarized zone in the world, with most of North Korea’s army stationed close to the line.
Most recently, an artillery fight broke out near the end of 2010 when North Korea began launching shell after shell into the South Korean island of Yeongpyeong, destroying seventy homes and killing four people. South Korea returned fire with its own salvo of artillery shells, but casualties from the North were never reported.
2: South Sudan/Sudan
The most recent heavy conflict along the border of Sudan and South Sudan was the appropriately named Sudan-South Sudan Border War, which last six months between March and September of 2012. Although the war only lasted a relatively short time, over a thousand soldiers were killed on the South Sudanese side alone, and nearly 300 more in the Sudanese army. The cause of the war? The Heglig oil field, which sits right on the border between the two states.
Despite an ultimate resolution to the war, the aftermath have been anything but peaceful. Both sides continue to clash in and around the border town, which not only contains the oil that both countries need, but also has some of the most fertile grazing land for cattle in an otherwise arid and dusty region of the world.
1: El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
The border between the United States and Mexico covers nearly 2,000 miles, and there’s a fair amount of violence across the entire thing-much of it a result of the ongoing war between the Mexican government and a handful of powerful drug cartels. However, the most brutal violence is concentrated in one tiny spot just below the southern border of Texas: Ciudad Juarez. Juarez and the Texan city of El Paso are on opposite sides of the border, yet are so close that you can see one from the other.
In 2009 alone, there were 2,600 murders in the small city of a million residents, and with increasing violence south of the border, more and more Juarez residents are trying to come north to El Paso. And it’s a one way flow-the cartels have been accused of kidnapping more than thirty Americans at the border, and the stories rarely have a happy ending.